New calibration standards could greatly increase accuracy in photonics industry

Fibre optic cables

Artefacts developed at the Swiss Institute METAS within an EMPIR project could improve the calibration of devices used to characterise optical fibres and photonic components



‘Photonics’, the branch of technology concerned with the properties and transmission of light, is now a part of our everyday lives. Light travelling down fibre optic cables is used to carry the broadband that supplies the internet to our homes as well as the data rich signals required for our high definition TVs. The telecommunication sector also makes use of these optical cables to carry our e-mails and telephone calls, often over hundreds of kilometres.

But when problems occur in these fibre optics communication systems, specialised instruments must be used to locate faults. One family of these instruments are the Optical Reflectometers, which use either pulsed or interferometric techniques to measure and locate the returned and scattered light that occurs at junctions, splices and, importantly, breaks in the cable and inside photonics components and devices like optical filters and amplifiers.

Exact location of the position of reflective events is also a key issue, when characterising small size fibre optics components and devices, thus the accurate calibration of these measurement instruments is also vital for the implementation of these.

The project

Now the Swiss National Metrology Institute METAS, through the work of the EMPIR project Metrology for the photonics industry - optical fibres, waveguides and applications (14IND13, PhotInd), has developed a series of novel artefact standards to calibrate the distance scale as well as the attenuation scale of high performance Optical Reflectometers.

Jaques Morel, from METAS, who led the development of these standards said:

“The distance scale artefacts, depending on the type, generate evenly spaced events with a separation in the 90 cm or in the 1 mm range. They are very well adapted to the calibration of high performance pulsed and interferometric reflectometers, as used to measure fibre-based components and systems, including optical fibre connectors.  The attenuation scale artefacts allow calibrating the attenuation scale of multimode Optical Reflectometers in an absolute way with a very low measurement uncertainty (0.03 dB), which was not possible until now. This new approach may also have a potential impact to the normalisation efforts in this field. The development of these artefacts is thus of high interest for the photonic industry involved in the production of Optical Reflectometers like Optical Time Domain Reflectometers (OTDR), Optical Frequency Domain Reflectometers (OFDR), Optical Low Coherence Reflectometers (OLCR), just to cite some examples”.

This EMPIR project is co-funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the EMPIR Participating States.

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